Friday, April 17, 2009

The Horror!

I feel like writing some quick movie I am! And you can't stop me!

Anyway, when I pop a movie into the DVD player, it's quite often a B grade horror film. Or a C grade horror film. Or...well, you get the point. To Lea's chagrin, I have a real jones for these things, even though I know going into it that most of the time they're going to be kind...less than stellar. But that's OK! I find that even in the bad ones, I find concepts, scenes, etc. that appeal to me. And let's face it, if you have to watch a bad movie, a bad horror movie is one of the better choices (bad comedy is the worst, and the most obvious, and truly a scourge on this planet).

So, that having been said, let's get going. I'm going to use a specific "cheap horror" rating for these, based on a one to ten scale (ten being a great flick like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and one being Joe Castro's evil, awful fever dream, Terror Toons). I'll also try to go from worst to best, saving the primo stuff for last...which means you can imagine how I feel about this first stenchmonster below...

First up, Alive or Dead. Terrible name for a horror film, by the way (and it makes me want to sing "You spin me right round, baby, right round"). The plot? Oh, hell, you tell me. It starts off with a decent premise: a woman comes across an abandoned bus with the words "Help Me" scrawled on the inside of one of the windows. Okey dokey. And the first twenty minutes or so are interesting enough to keep me going. But then...frankly, I can't tell you what happens after that. It involves a big lummox chasing two women around, and being very inept at it. That's him in the pic above, by the way, and I have to call shenanigans, as he looks MUCH scarier and more formidable here than in the movie. In actuality, he looks sort of like wrestling's late John Tenta (Earthquake, the Shark, Golga, etc.), but without the grace and charisma. There's some sort of a subplot involving this loser tying women up and impregnating them, I think (what is it with so many of these movies, especially the crazed hillbilly/mountain man/mutant ones, taking a "Mars Needs Women" angle?). Anyway, watch this one only if you want the pleasure of explaining to your ol' Uncle Troy what the @#$% it was about.

Two Stars - **

Next we have Malevolence. The idea here is that you have some bank robbers show up at a house (or close to one) where a serial killer has been operating. And...golly...he ends up killing them! Very little here is any more surprising than that. And even the killings are fairly bland for this sort of fare. There is an epilogue that seems somewhat tacked on, but it does raise the movie in my esteem just a bit, so good for them. I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to see this, but if you have an unlimited rental deal like I do, I don't think you'll feel your intelligence is TOO insulted by this one.

Three stars - ***

And...Plasterhead. OK, so this is about four college kids from Jersey going on spring break to Florida. They find a woman's purse, go to a small town and try to return it, and get caught up in a lot of murderous mayhem. Frankly, there's not much to recommend this movie except the fact that its main character is called Plasterhead, and that's no small thing. He has some sort of origin involving a bunch of racists working over a black guy and leaving him for dead, but that's really just a lot of yah-yah; what's important here is that he covers his head in plaster and calls himself Plasterhead. There's also a really crazy redneck gas station guy who has to be seen to be appreciated. This moves along too slowly, and they spend a strangely inordinate amount of time talking about the fact that the town they're in used to be called something else (I'm not big on movies that use zoning ordinances as fodder for terror). It's worth a look if you have nothing else to do, though, as it has a character called Plasterhead.

Midnight Movie - This one is in the vein of stuff like The Video Dead, Shocker, and Wes Craven's New Nightmare, though not as memorable as any of those. The premise is that a low-budget horror film was made in the 1970s, and the star/director eventually went crazy, got out of the nuthouse five years ago, and may be on the loose and menacing. The film in question, by the way, seems somewhat like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though it has the unlikely title "The Dark Beneath" (sounds like a movie about Cicely Tyson's butt to me). Anyway, a bunch of teen-agers end up at a midnight showing of this "classic" flick, and before you know it, the murderer from the movie leaves the screen and guessed it...killing folks in the theater. For what it is, it's fairly well done, and there are a few neat touches. Unfortunately, there are also some plot holes big enough to drive a hovercraft through (and if I catch them, then you KNOW they're a problem). There's also a biker character played quite nicely by Stanley Ellsworth who's the best character in the movie, but the most creative name they could come up with for him was "Harley"? Hey, why not call the police detective "Flatfoot" or the little kid "Ankle-Biter"? Anyway, this one may not be an instant classic, but it did entertain me for most of the ninety minutes or so that it ran, so it's worth a look.

Five stars - *****

Storm Warning is the tale of an Australian guy and his French girlfriend who are out boating when a storm forces them to take cover on a small island. As it turns out, it's the home a a crazy guy and his sons, who are involved in a grow-op, abductions, rapes, murders, and probably even the occasional tearing the sticker off a mattress. Pretty basic "terrorized by the locals" plot, but it's fairly well done. You get a real sense of depravity from the evil family, and a nice catharsis when they're eventually turned into lunch meat. There's a "nice" scene where an attempted rape goes terribly wrong for the perpetrator, and it had me audibly saying "Ouch!" as I watched it. If you enjoy stuff like Wolf Creek, this will probably grab you.

Five Stars - *****

Eden Lake - Here's another Aussie horror film (they're really turning 'em out) that has a similar premise to Storm Warning. A young couple are on a holiday, and they suddenly find themselves the victims of a sadistic bunch. In this case, though, the attackers are a group of 12-17 year olds, who end up doing some very nasty things to our protagonists. This one gets points for giving you a sense of both the peer pressure involved for these kids, and also for the sociopaths that their upbringing has led them to be. It reminds me a little of stuff like The River's Edge or Over the Edge (I guess nothing makes your film edgier than putting "edge" right there in the title). I'm torn on the ending, which is powerful, but which seems a little too similar to Last House on the Left (or Virgin Spring, for that matter), and is a bit contrived. This one is sufficiently tense and definitely worth the time to watch it.

Six Stars - ******

Hatchet? Well, it's just a lot of fun. Concept? A bunch of people are on a boat tour of the bayou, when they are confronted with the slasher du jour, one Victor Crowley. The PR campaign for this one plays strongly on the angle that ol' Vic is going to be the next Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees, and I think that's expecting a lot from the newbie, but he is one scary-looking sack of pucks who really seems to enjoy his work (and for whom you feel a certain pity, which is no small feat for a guy who's lopping off the heads of innocents). What makes this one stand out among the field of similar flicks is mainly the dialog, which is quite smart in comparison to most low budget (or even big budget) horror. A number of solid laughs in the midst of the mayhem, and you get the feeling that the cast and crew don't take themselves too seriously. I wouldn't mind seeing Victor return.

Six Stars - ******

Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer seems to be an attempt to make Evil Dead/Army of Darkness with a lot less money and a lot fewer Raimi-cam moments. And ya know, for the most part it works. Jack himself is a hapless everyman loser, but once he begins his monster-slaying, he's the man. Yeah, it takes way too long for that monster-slaying to happen, but personally I'm hoping for some sequels, as this seems more like an origin story than anything else. And yes, they try to hard to make it something special instead of letting it happen naturally, but it was still enjoyable. Good performances all around (the omnipresent Robert Englund, who I think is in half the movies I've reviewed here, is particularly good this time out). Trevor Matthews plays Jack with a certain degree of restraint that keeps it from going TOO gonzo (he reminds me a little of Jason Lee). Decent (non CGI!) effects, coherent script, and just a fair amount of fun overall.

Seven Stars - ******

Before any of you pinkboys point out that Quarantine is a remake of the Spanish film [REC], I need to point out that I don't give a rat's rosy red ass. I'm sure that's a wonderful movie, and I'll see it eventually, but I'm not going to let this turn into one of those "oh, the foreign original is SO much better" hatefests. Save that for your Eurotrash and movies where big-eyed Japanese girls crabwalk toward their victims. I enjoyed Quarantine quite a lot. It was genuinely scary and suspenseful in spots, and I don't see that with a lot of movies these days. The acting was good, the pacing was great, and the whole thing had a kind of claustrophobic feeling that we haven't seen since John Carpenter's heyday with things like Assault on Precinct Thirteen. Yeah, there's a bit of shaky hand-held camera work that may bother a few folks, but hey, I'm Mr. Vertigo, and I didn't have a bit of trouble with it (or with the Blair Witch Project, for that matter). This is a good one to watch if you want your significant other to cling to you out of the heebie jeebies.
Seven Stars - *******

Feast 3 - Look, I'm not going to go into any great description here, because there is truly no way to describe the work of John Gulager. If you haven't seen the three Feast movies, go out and rent them today and watch them all in succession (but DON'T watch #3 if you haven't seen the previous ones). Suffice it to say, Gulager doesn't make horror films like anyone else on the planet. The guy is fearless, showing things on screen that just make you literally say "oh, no, he's not going to...he's wouldn't...oh, my gosh, the @#$% actually showed that!" The basic premise is as simple as can be: there are a bunch of monsters out there, and they're killing people. What more do you need? But between the mayhem and the bloodshed and the breaking of the fourth wall and the use of John's dad, Clu Gulager, and the midget luchadores and Henry Rollins and the lesbian bikers and the armless samurai and the mentally challenged cleric and the baby...oh, lord, the baby...well, just watch 'em, gang, then report back to me.
I salute you, John Gulager.
Rating - Unratable (but so damned entertaining).


Greg said...

crap! I don't have time to read this right now, but I will! Troy, have you ever looked through my blog. I try to keep a horror blog, the section is called "Oh, The Horror!" where I basically post reviews of horror flicks or anything of the nature. Check it out some time. :D

Juggling Jason said...

This article reminds me of a article. You should be writing for them! Or not. I'm cool either way.

NuclearToast said...

Great reviews. I particularly liked how you started at a fewer number of stars and worked your way up. Would read again. I rate it at four pterodactyls.

Troy Hickman said...

I'll check it out, Greg.

Jason, I did work for Cracked (the magazine version) back in the early part of the decade. I need to dig those pieces up and put them on the blog (especially since they didn't pay me for all of them, the @#$%).

Toastie, would that mean you're giving me two double dactyls?

Snorii said...

Hey Troy, good to see you posting again. Like Greg above, I can't read through all the reviews right this moment, but I will.

By the way, have you seen any of Minoru Kawasaki's work? I haven't had a chance to watch them yet, but four of his movies are available here in the States on DVD. The Calamari Wrestler, Executive Koala, The World Sinks Except Japan, and The Rug Cop.